128 B. POLEVOI "And then you light a fire, spread out your cape, make some nice, fragrant tea with a smoky taste, and just a nip of vodka to warm every muscle of your body, eh? After your honest labours-----" "Oh, don't talk about it, Comrade Commissar!'1 answered Stepan Ivanovich. "Do you know the kind of hunting we get in our parts at this time of the year? For pike! You wouldn't believe it, but it's true. Haven't you heard about it? It's good fun, and, of course, you can make a bit of money, too. As soon as the ice breaks on the lake and the rivers overflow, they all swarm to the banks, on to the grass and moss which the spring waters have covered. They get into the grass and cast their spawn. You walk along the bank and you see what looks like sunken logs, but it's pike! You bang away with your gun. Sometimes you get so many that you can't stuff them all into your bag, I give you my word!..." And an interchange of hunters' reminiscences would begin. Imperceptibly the conversation would veer round to the war and they wondered what was doing just now in the division, or in the company, whether the dugouts made in the winter were "weeping", or whether the fortifications were "creeping", and how the Germans were getting on, considering that in the West they were accus- tomed to asphalt roads. After dinner they fed the sparrows. This was a form of amusement that Stepan Ivanovich had invented. He was unable to sit idle and was always doing something with his thin, restless hands. One day he suggested that the crumbs left over from dinner be scattered on the outside windowsill for the birds. This became a custom, and it was not only leftover crumbs they threw out of the window; they deliberately left slices of bread and crumbled them, so that a whole flock of sparrows was "put on the ration list", as Stepan Ivanovich expressed it. It gave all the inmates of the ward immense pleasure to watch the small, noisy creatures pecking away at a large crust, chirping and quarrelling, and, after cleaning up the windowsill, perching and preening themselves on the bough of the poplar, and then, with a whir of their wings, flying off to attend to their particular affairs.